Microphones Part 13 – Other

medium-diaphragm-condenser-microphones

Current stock

My current studio and live microphone stocks a modest range of dynamic microphones, dynamic ribbons, condensers, tubes and contact microphones. The range of microphones include: Shure 57s, 58s, Beta52As & SM7Bs; Electro Voice RE20s; Sennheiser e935s, e945s, e906s & MD441Us; MXL 550s & 551s; Rode NT-USBs, NT1s, NT3s, NTRs, NT4s & NTKs; Audio Technica AT2020s; AKG C414XLIIs, P420s & CGN523Es; Royer 121s; Neumann TLM193, OPR87C, OPR87I & OPR84s; Mojave MA101FETs; DPA 4099s;  IK  reference mics; a Zoom H6 XY and MS mic; Sony lapel mics; and a range of contact mics. This stock allows for versatility in most recording scenarios that have been presented to me; of course coupled with great instruments, amplifiers,outboard processing hardware, interfaces, consoles, and of course artists. But sometimes, in certain scenarios, even these are not enough.

Current Research Study Project

In my current doctoral research study project, I have designed a composition requiring me to source sonic samples of significant aspects of my life. Water is one of the most significant and influential elements in my life and my life partner’s lifestyle [see blog or Media Use Part 1], I felt a need to be able to record water samples across a range of contexts which I have experienced. The ocean, rain, waterfalls, swimming pools, and domestic water use. However, this needed to occur without causing damage to my current range of microphones. Ready and portable – armed with my Zoom H6 -my research project would not be complete without the range of real water samples – out in the environment. However, I also felt a need to record sonic samples of water from a submersed perspective. Of my current stock of microphones, there were none that allowed me to record in a submersed scenario, without needing a further layer between the microphone and the element of water, such as by using plastic bags or tubs, duct tape and silicon. I therefore felt an alternative solution was needed.

zoom-h6-01

Hydrophone H2a-XLR

I researched my options, exploring what other audio engineers have used to gather some water-based samples. I finally decided to purchase a fully submersible microphone, and  I now received what will be the latest microphone to add to my stock of studio and live microphones: an Aquarian Audio Products Hydrophone H2a-XLR microphone.
A hydrophone microphone is designed to be immersed in water – natural or salt water – multiple times without degrading from excessive water damage or corrosion.
H2aXLR_9m.P3.jpg
The Aquarian Audio hydrophone microphone is quite compact, measuring just 25mm wide, but 46 mm long. It weighs just 105 grams.
h2axlr_9m-p2
It is a condenser microphone, requiring 48v power in order to charge the electro-static transduction process. As such it is extremely sensitive, with minimal extraneous noise. “The hydrophone sensor is cable of picking up sounds from below 20Hz to above 100KHz” (Aquarian Audio Products 2016). Designed for deep water where maximum microphone bandwidth can be achieved,  the Aquarian Audio Hydrophone apparently boasts an operating depth of up to 80 metres. However, the model I purchased came with a 9 metre cable, a length I thought was more than adequate for the sample events I am looking for.
H2aXLR_9m.P1.jpg

Using a Hydrophone – Context

Having just received the microphone, I am still yet to venture out into a deep water environment where I can test the microphone to its full capacity. However, I was keen to immediately test the microphone to get an idea of how sensitive it was going to be, how accurate it was going to potentially be in capturing the original sound source, and how much noise it may or may not inherently have. Using my Zoom H6 with this hydrophone to gather a number of preliminary samples, I considered the options I had immediately around me. I chose the 60,000 litre salt water fibreglass swimming pool found in our front garden as my first test environment. A place where my partner and I have spent considerable hours over the past two decades, it is surely a significant part of our lives, and therefore somewhere I am going to need to gather sample events for my composition. In saying that, embarking on this test I acknowledged there would be some limitations of using this test environment to trial the functionality of this condenser microphone. Namely, the structure of the pool – the pool is 4 metres wide, 9.5 metres long  and 1.9 metre deep (reducing to about 1.4 metres in the shallow end) and made of a fibreglass shell with the sides and bottom curved into one continuous surface. Due to this particular environment, the hydrophone microphone would likely display a narrower bandwidth than what it would optimally have in deeper waters; and the captured sound source was likely to include the original sound source and a number of reflections off the hard surfaces of this domestic swimming pool.  Irrespective, as I was going to need samples of this environment eventually, I considered it a useful initial test environment.

Using a Hydrophone – Part 1

The first 5 sample events I believe demonstrate the sensitivity this condenser microphone has in underwater situations. I was surprised how sensitive the microphone was, despite the large amount of water residing between/separating the subject and the microphone capsule during these recordings. As indicated above regarding the reflections, the captured sample events demonstrates a cacophony of sonic textures resulting from a fusion of both the intended sound source and its’ multiple reflections.
Note also the frequency range of each sample event relative to the micopphones’ depth and proximity to either the surface, the bottom, or the sides of the swimming pool. I have been reminded that in a shallower water environment: there is likely to be less fully developed low frequencies due to the shorter distance between any surfaces. Additionally, in calm water conditions the sound waves under the surface are likely to rebound back off a flat water surface, phase cancelling the original signal below it. This phenomena of a varying frequency range is particularly noticeable in Using a Hydrophone – Part 2 sample events 7 and 8 when the condenser microphone capsule is being bounced up and down at variable depths under the surface, and then breaches the surface of the water. Listen and compare the frequency range and the sonic texture of each sample event as the condenser capsule moves through the water.

Sample Event 1  (click to access audio)

In the first sample, the hydrophone was submerged in the swimming pool to a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was set to 6 (of 10). My friend (the subject) was in the pool and approximately 2 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and blowing bubbles under water in the direction of the microphone. The reverberations off the nearby pool surfaces are quite noticeable from about 1/3 third into the sample event, providing a minor delay of the original signal until the end of the sample event.

Sample Event 2 (click to access audio)

In the second sample, the hydrophone was maintained in the swimming pool at a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was set to 7 (of 10). The subject was in the pool and approximately 3 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and blowing bubbles. The overall levels are softer in this second sample event while she was mimicking what she had done previously – with the exception of when the hydrophone capsule got knocked by something (tall volume spike midway) – despite the gain level being increased marginally. See image i below. The reverberations off the nearby pool surfaces are quite noticeable from about one third into the sample event, providing a minor delay of the original signal until the end of the sample event for the second third, but then decays and releases back to mainly the original signal in the final third of the sample event.  As a result of the decaying signal, the amplitude reduces. With the return to the original signal in the final third, there is greater clarity of the signal.
pts-sample-event-1-2-comparison-20161117Image I – Pro Tools 12 Sample event 1 (top) and Sample Event 2 (bottom)

Sample Event 3  (click to access audio)

In the third sample event, the hydrophone was submerged in the swimming pool to a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was maintained at 7 (of 10). The subject was in the pool and approximately 3 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and trying to talk underwater.  I note that despite her being farther away from the hydrophone capsule than she was in the first sample event, as she was trying to talk loudly under water toward the microphone capsule, the audio is louder than both sample events 1 and 2. As you can see in image ii below, the overall mass of the wav file is exponentially greater in this third event than both the previous two sample events, with the subject’s speaking voice producing far greater mass and density than she did when blowing bubbles underwater. This mass and density represents increases in sound pressure levels, and reverberant signals, resulting in a cacophony of sonic textures.  Had I included a longer sample, you would observe, as per the sample event 2, at a certain point the signal decays and releases back to mainly the original signal, with reduce amplitude, but greater clarity.
PTs Sample Event 1 2 3 Comparison.20161117.png
Image II – Pro Tools 12 Sample event 1 (top), Sample Event 2 (middle, Sample Event 3 (bottom)

Sample Event 4  (click to access audio)

In the fourth sample event, the hydrophone was submerged in the swimming pool to a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was maintained at 5 (of 10). The subject is in the pool and approximately 0.5 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and blowing bubbles. Sonically, this fourth sample event demonstrates a cacophony of sonic textures, resulting from excessive sound pressure levels due to the close proximity of the transducer relative to the sound source, and the accompanying  reverberant signals from the multiple surfaces of the pool.  The inherent distortion results from excessive sound pressure levels, with an over-gained signal. For non-audiophiles: note the clean flat line along the top of the wav form indicating a form of dynamic limiting. Given that no dynamic processing was used to achieve this limiting of the audio signal, the limiting effect indicates acceptable gain levels for the equipment were exceeded, resulting in what is referred to as digital (signal) clipping. See image iii below (top wav form).

PTs Sample Event 4 + 5 Comparison.20161117.png

Image III – Pro Tools 12 Sample event 4 (top) and Sample Event 5 (bottom)

Sample Event 5  (click to access audio)

In the fifth sample event, the hydrophone was maintained at a depth of about 1.5 metres. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level is reduced to 5 (of 10). The subject was in the pool and approximately 0.5 metres away from the hydrophone, facing it and trying to talk underwater. As you can see in image iii above (bottom wav form), the overall mass of the wav file is exponentially greater in this fifth event than the previous sample events, with the subject’s speaking voice producing far greater sound pressure levels than she did when blowing bubbles underwater. Sonically, this fifth sample event is heavily distorted due to the excessive sound pressure levels due to the close proximity of the transducer relative to the sound source. The digital recording is therefore clipped given the amplitude far exceeded the specified gain levels of the equipment. For non-audiophiles: in this example the cleaner flatter line along the top of the wav form – relative to the previous example – indicating extreme limiting of the audio signal. Again, as no dynamic processing was used – it similarly indicates excessive sound pressure levels at unacceptable gain levels for the equipment, resulting in severe digital (signal) clipping across almost the entire length of the audio wav file.  It is also worth noting the very thin sound of this sample event as a result of the absence of low frequencies in the shallow depths; and yet as per sample event 4, there is a cacophony of sonic textures given the multiple reverberant signals arriving from the numerous surfaces of the pool.

Using a Hydrophone Part 2

In the following examples, I gathered a number of sample events using the hydrophone closer to the surface of the water line.  I hope the sample events further show how sensitive the hydrophone microphone is, effectively capturing sonic qualities of very subtle movements.

Sample Event 6  (click to access audio)

In the sixth sample event, the Zoom H6 track 3 gain level was set at 6 (of 10). The hydrophone was being dragged along the surface of the swimming pool at a relatively slow walking pace. The sound of rushing of water is the wake of water that the small condenser capsule (25mm wide, but 46 mm long, weighing 105 grams.) is creating and capturing as it breaches the surface of the water. I think you will agree that this confirms both the sensitivity and low noise levels of this particular microphone. The deeper frequency you hear (boomy quality) in the audio file is when the transduction surface of the microphone capsule is re-submersed  under the surface of the water.

Sample Event 6wp (click to access audio)

Sample event 6wp indicates that it is the same sample as sample event 6, but with post-production audio processing added. In the studio – following recording the sample – I chose to add two (2) reverb processing devices – a Eventide and a Lexicon reverb – to the initial audio file. While doing this, and listening to the altered sonic textures of the audio, I am imagining the many applications that I could use such an effect in my sonic compositions and sound design.

Sample Event 7 (click to access audio)

The seventh sample event is a similar execution as sample event 6, with the hydrophone being dragged along the swimming pool at a relatively slow walking pace, but being bounced in and out of the water in an approximately 30 centimetre arc.  The popping and gurgling sounds are occurring as the capsule breaches the surface of the water (popping), then followed by the re-submersion (gurgling). It is a similar but more exaggerated version of sample event 6, with the sample event’s frequency varying dependent on where the condenser microphone capsule is relative to the water: being just under the surface, at depth (only about 30 cms in this example), breaching the surface, or above the surface of the water.

Sample Event 8 (click to access audio)

The eighth sample event is a similar execution as sample event 7, with the Zoom H6 track 3 gain level remaining at 6 (of 10). The hydrophone was being dragged along the surface of the swimming pool at a relatively slow walking pace, but being bounced in and out of the water over a much larger arc – approximately 1.5 metres.   This is a more exaggerated version of sample event 7, with the popping and gurgling sounds associated with the breaching and re-submersion are relatively deeper in tone due to the greater depth, speed and height the capsule was dropped from, back into and under the water.  Sonically, you may hear what sounds like wind noise in this audio sample event. I noted at the time that this was due in combination to both the faster movement of the capsule above the surface of the water after breaching; but also partially due to the wind in our local area picking up nearing the end of the test. You will also note that near the end of the sample event you can hear a voice – talking, describing my actions. This voice was captured by the microphone capsule after it had breached the surface of the water, with the speaker’s mouth about 2 metres away.

Sample Event 9 (click to access audio)

The ninth and last sample event had the hydrophone submerged in the swimming pool to a depth of about 1.5 metres held stationary. The Zoom H6 track 3 gain level remained at 6 (of 10). The subject was approximately 2 metres away from the hydrophone drop point, swimming up and down the pool in freestyle form. The low frequency plop occurred every time the subject kicked her feet, with training flippers on.  The bass frequency was pronounced, reverberating off the surfaces of the  pool, producing a sound somewhat similar to a deep tom sonic boom after the skin had been struck. And yet, the hydrophone microphone still clearly captured what sounds to be running water – the sound of the subject’s hand and arms entering and breaching the surface of the water with each and every stroke. Again, I am imagining the many applications that I could apply some processing to this sample event, and use such an effect in my sonic compositions and sound design.

Summary

The Aquarian Audio Products Hydrophone H2a-XLR microphone is an extremely sensitive fully submersible condenser microphone, with minimal extraneous noise. It is well designed and constructed to be impact resistant, using sturdy materials. Whilst it is designed to be submersed in a far greater depth than I have tested to date, I believe I have made a good purchase with this hydrophone, something that will complement my current stock of studio and live microphones. I believe this microphone will allow me even greater versatility in a range of recording scenarios that I can foresee me being presented. I daresay I will probably now go searching further afield, exploring less predictable outdoor terrain, and feeling the need to be less mindful than I usually would taking my more expensive studio microphones. I am looking forward to progressing my sonic compositions and sound designs using water samples across the range of contexts which I have experienced in my life – the ocean – including boating, body surfing, snorkelling and scuba diving – rivers,  waterfalls, natural pools, and domestic water use – in order to capture specific sample events that represent significant events and memories. I look forward to this next chapter in my creative practice.
It is intended for this series of microphone-related blogs to continue.
References
Aquarian Audio Products. 2016a.  H2a-XLR Hyrophone Users Guide http://www.aquarianaudio.com   Accessed 17th November 2016
Aquarian Audio Products. 2016b. http://www.aquarianaudio.com  Accessed 15th November 2016
DLP Soundcloud. 2016.  DLP Soundcloud  Accessed 17th November 2016
Hydrophone images courtesy of: Aquarian Audio Products  Accessed 16th November 2016
AE Project Studio Microphone Case image courtesy of: DLP Pinterest site  Accessed 16th November 2016
Pro Tools 12 Sample Event Images courtesy of: David L Page  Accessed 16th November 2016
Zoom H6 image courtesy of: Sound on Sound  Accessed 16th November 2016
– ©David L Page 17/11/2016
Copyright: No aspect of the content of this blog or blog site is to be reprinted or used within any practice without strict permission directly from David L Page.
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Critical Listening Part 3a

As I introduced in my blogs Critical listening part 2a & b [March 2015], aspiring audio engineers need to proactively and diligently develop their Critical Listening skills with regular and disciplined critical listening practice sessions. It will take time, practice and considerable dedication to learn to listen for the nuances of the cultural production – the genre, musical characteristics and the sonic qualities to a level of mastery.
Last month I introduced genre, musical characteristics and sonic qualities, followed by a first listening task example. In that reference track critical listening example, I introduced genre considerations, explored music characteristics in some detail, and then introduced the sonic qualities that supported the genre. Now that you have been practicing critical listening in dedicated sessions a couple of times per week over the past four weeks, I want to continue this month, outlining considerations and questions to stimulate your development of Critical Listening skills to a deeper level, focussing more closely on the third area, the sonic qualities of a production.

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MIDAS Console_looking left

(DLP 2015)
In my blog Mixing Part 6 – effectively guiding creative artists through a task: process [May 2014] , I outlined Owsinski’s elements of mixing that he sees as common to all: session set up, gain structure, stereo balance, spectral, dynamics, time-domain and interest (Owsinski, 2013).  In this blog I will focus on these elements, making suggestions as to how you can use resources that you have access to as an aspiring engineer to assist in a deeper level of discovery of a reference track. I will then provide a second listening task example in my next blog Critical listening part 3b [April 2015].
As mentioned in last month’s blog [March 2015], audio engineering is a craft and art that relies not only the auditory, but also on visual cues as well.  Some of the tools I use include: my DAW, Pro Tools as the primary tool; and several plug-ins. But most importantly I rely on my ears and the enormous amount of experience as a hearing-able human I have.

The Human Ear

(The Jury Expert 2015)

Critical Listening – Musical Characteristics

~Music_staff Blue

(AE 2015a)

Session set up

As outlined in last month’s blog, the first step is to open a DAW such as Pro Tools, import the reference track into the session, and create a click track. The session will be used initially for three main purposes: to play back the track, and while listening assist you in determining: 1) the bpm of the track, 2) the time signature of the track, and 3) assigning markers to determine the structure or form of the track, noting down what musical elements (instruments) exist, and feature in the various stages of the song.  Having critically listened to the song many times over by this stage, we complete our critical listening analysis of the musical characteristics of the song, by deducing the harmonisation (chords) of the song.

Critical Listening – Sonic Qualities

Music_staff_+_notes_2560x1600.v1c

(AE 2015b)

Gain Structure

My goal in this second stage of the reference track critical listening analysis task is to consider the balance of the musical elements in terms of their amplitude levels (ie their volume) – overall and relative to each other. Whist I have a DAW session in front of me, looking at this screen while listening to the track over multiple times, I also look to the visual cues available to me. This is the levels displayed on the metres, and also the audio wave file image. I listen to the track several more times, specifically from this perspective, and note down all and any of my observations. Focus questions could include:
  • Are the metered levels excessive?
  • Do the metered levels maintain a degree of consistency throughout the piece?
  • How are the individual musical elements (instruments) levels relative to each other
  • How much inherent noise is present (noise floor)?
  • If so, to what degree?
  • How much headroom is present?
  • Based on your gain level analysis of this track, is there anything you can you deduce about the original tracking session, equipment used or techniques applied?

Stereo Balance

full-2
The next step is to consider the stereo image. Audio engineers consider stereo image in two ways: the stereo image of the whole track/mix, or the stereo image of the individual musical elements (instruments) [Izhaki 2013, 69]. My goal in this third stage of the reference track critical listening analysis task is to consider the balance of the musical elements in terms of the stereo field – the left and right side imagery.
Initially, I am interested in determining if there are obvious left and right channels of the audio mix, as per some of the early Beatles track which featured the vocals primarily in one channel, and the band primarily in the other channel.  However assuming we are listening to a reference track that has been made after the 1970’s when stereo image was more likely a consideration, I want to understand how the engineers have spread out the various musical elements over the entire breadth of stereo field. I may do this by selecting the split into mono feature most DAWs in this era allow. This is a right-click feature when you have the audio wave form selected. It splits the stereo wave form into two distinct wave forms – one left, and one right. Once we have the stereo track split into two single mono tracks we are in a position to analyse them in greater detail (see my blog a second listening task example for how I apply this practically [April 2015]).
My next task here is to imagine and reproduce the sound stage in terms of the type of environment this artist is imagined to be playing in, a rough estimate of the type of stage and dimensions, and where the instruments and musicians are located on that stage. A stereo phase vector scope display is useful here (I use IK Multimedia’s T-Racks CS as this is a simple well laid out metering tool that includes three amplitude metres – PPM and Perceived Loudness and RMS -, a stereo phase vector scope display, and a spectrometer), but I daresay that your ears and experience as a listening human will be your best resources. My advice, is to close your eyes, and imagine where the producer is attempting to transport you as the listener to.  I listen to the track several more times, specifically from this perspective, and note down all and any of my observations. Focus questions could include:
  • What can I hear in terms of a stereo image? Draw a picture of all musical elements (instruments) you can hear?
  • Where is this song set?
    • indoors or outdoors?
    • if indoors – in a small venue, or a large venue?
    • if outdoors – in an urban environment or a rural environment?
    • if in a rural environment – in a valley or on a mountain?  in a forest or by the sea?
    • out of space?
  • What type of venue?
    • what is the likely room size?
    • how high is the ceiling likely to be?
    • what are the likely materials in the venue?
    • is the venue filled with an audience, or empty?
  • What musicians and instruments are performing?
  • Where on the sound stage are the musicians and instruments likely to be, relative to the other musical elements (instruments) are around them?
  • Which of the musical elements (instruments) are the main or featured instruments, and which instruments make up the rhythm section?
  • Do these musical elements change during the performance as the song progresses?
  • And if so, do the positions these musical elements have on the sound stage change?
  • Based on your stereo image analysis of this track, is there anything you can you deduce about the original tracking session, equipment used or techniques applied?

Spectral Processing

My goal in this fourth stage of the reference track critical listening analysis task is to consider the balance of the musical elements in terms of their frequency range.  I listen to the track several more times, specifically from this perspective, and note down all and any of my observations.  Useful tools here are an equaliser and a spectrometer. I use a dedicated EQ here (such as Pro Tools 7 band EQ or Sonnox’s EQ), and IK Multimedia’s T-Racks CS as this is a simple well laid out metering tool that includes a spectrometer. Whilst the tools can be very useful for confirming specific frequency information,  your ears and experience as a human will be a very good starting resource. Again, close your eyes and listen the musical elements of the song, and their frequencies. Focus questions could include:
  • What can I hear in terms of spectral processing? List all spectral processing you can hear?
  • Referring back to the first stage of the this reference track critical listening analysis task, what are the musical elements (instruments) included in this song?
  • What are the frequency ranges of each musical element (instrument)?
  • Do they share any of their frequency range with any other musical element/s (instrument/s)?
    • if not, what is or are the other musical elements (instruments)?
    • is this other musical element or elements (instrument/s) one of the main or featured instruments, or is it a musical element (instrument) that makes up the rhythm section?
    • is there obvious masking present, with one instrument masking or covering up another instrument’s frequency range due to sharing or overlapping a similar frequency range?
    • if so, is this masking likely to exist deliberately for corrective or corrective purposes?
  • Does the amount of spectral processing applied to this track (or not) support the stereo image perspective as the producer has established?
  • Based on your frequency range analysis, is there anything you can you deduce about the original tracking session, equipment used or techniques applied?

Dynamic Processing

My goal in this fifth stage of the reference track critical listening analysis task is to consider the balance of the musical elements in terms of the dynamic range – overall and for each of the musical elements (instruments). I use a range of dedicated dynamics here (such as Pro Tools Dyn3 Compressor, Dyn3 Gate or Sonnox’s Dynamic), and IK Multimedia’s T-Racks CS as this is a simple well laid out metering tool.  I listen to the track several more times, specifically from this perspective, and note down all and any of my observations. Focus questions could include:
  • What can I hear in terms of dynamic processing? List all dynamic processing you can hear?
  • Looking at the audio wave image reveals the amount of energy at various points in the song. Is the signal a dynamic audio signal with lots of movement between amplitude levels?
  • Or the signal quite static, with little movement between amplitude levels?
  • Further, has there been any heavy limiting applied to the track, essentially flattening out the top of the wave form?
  • If so, has this been applied naturally through an analogue signal path by driving the gain very high?
  • Or via an external compressor/limiter during tracking, or in post-production?
  • Has there been any other dynamic processing applied – eg gating – for either corrective or creative measures?
  • Does the amount of dynamic processing applied to this track (or not) support the stereo image perspective as the producer has established?
  • Based on your dynamic analysis of this track, is there anything you can you deduce about the original tracking session, equipment used or techniques applied?

Time-domain Processing

My goal in this sixth stage of the reference track critical listening analysis task is to consider the balance of the musical elements in terms of their time-domain placement within the song – overall and for each of the musical elements (instruments). I listen to the track several more times, specifically from this perspective, and note down all and any of my observations. Focus questions could include:
  • What can I hear in terms of time-domain processing? List all time-domain processing you can hear?
  • How much of a time-domain processing tail exists on any of the musical elements (instruments) when I stop the track?
  • How obvious is the time-domain processing (and the presence of a tail)?
  • Is the same degree of time-domain processing applied to the mix overall, or just on one or several of the musical elements (instruments)?
  • Is the degree of time-domain processing likely to have been applied for corrective or creative purposes?
  • Does the amount of time-domain processing applied support the stereo image perspective as the producer has established?
  • Irrespective of the determined purpose of the time-domain processing, does it work within this musical style (genre)?
  • Based on your time-domain processing analysis of this track, is there anything you can you deduce about the original tracking session, equipment used or techniques applied?
  • Based on your time-domain processing analysis of this track, is there anything you can you deduce about the post-production session, equipment used or techniques applied?

Interest

My goal in this seventh stage of the reference track critical listening analysis is to consider the balance of the musical elements in terms of interest – overall and for each of the musical elements (instruments). I listen to the track several more times, specifically from this perspective, and note down all and any of my observations. Focus questions could include:
  • What can I hear in terms of points of interest (hooks for the listener) in this production? List all you can hear?
  • Have any of the following points of interest (hooks for the listener) been used in this production?
    • Form Hooks
    • Rhythmic Hooks
    • Harmonic Hooks
    • Melodic Hooks
    • Improvisational Hooks
    • Instrumentation Hooks
    • Arrangement Hooks
  • If so, describe how they have been used, and comment as to their significance (points of interest hooks for the listener) in this production
  • Have any of the following contrasts been used in this production?
    • Shade (light/dark)
    • Mood (happy/sad)
    • Tempo (fast/slow)
    • Frequency (high/low)
    • Structure (complex/simple)
    • Instrumentation
    • Timbre (ie ‘colour’)
  • If so, describe how they have been used, and comment as to their significance (points of interest hooks for the listener) in this production
  • Based on your analysis of this track in terms of hooks, is there anything you can you deduce about the original tracking session, equipment used or techniques applied?
  • Based on your analysis of this track in terms of hooks, is there anything you can you deduce about the post-production session, equipment used or techniques applied?

Summary

As I introduced in my blogs Critical listening part 2a & b [March 2015], aspiring audio engineers need to proactively and diligently develop their Critical Listening skills with regular and disciplined critical listening practice sessions. It will take time, practice and considerable dedication to learn to listen for the nuances of the cultural production – the genre, musical characteristics and the sonic qualities to a level of mastery.
Last month I introduced genre, musical characteristics and sonic qualities, followed by a first listening task example. In that reference track critical listening example, I introduced genre considerations, explored music characteristics in some detail, and then introduced the sonic qualities that supported the genre. Now that you have been practicing critical listening in dedicated sessions a couple of times per week over the past four weeks, I want to continue this month, outlining considerations and questions to stimulate your development of Critical Listening skills to a deeper level, focussing more closely on the third area, the sonic qualities of a production.
Using Owsinski’s (2013) elements of mixing  I have focussed on each element making suggestions as to how you as an aspiring engineer can use resources that you have access to, to assist in a deeper level of discovery of a reference track. I have listed a number of focus questions to assist you in focussing your critical listening sessions.  I have encouraged you to rely not only on audio, but also on visual cues as well.  Some of the tools I use include: my DAW, Pro Tools as the primary tool; and several plug-ins. But most importantly I rely on my ears and the enormous amount of experience as a hearing-able human I have.  In order to demonstrate the application of the suggestions and focus questions provided within this blog,  I have provided a second listening task example in my blog Critical listening part 3b [April 2015] .

Music_staff_+_notes_2560x1600.v1c

(AE 2015b)
In the coming months, we will develop our Critical Listening process to the next level, Critical and Analytical Listening.
References
AE 2015a Music note montage in the universe image courtesy of: Angelic Exorcism (AE) Studio Projects  Accessed 11th March 2015
AE 2015b Music note montage in the universe image courtesy of: Angelic Exorcism (AE) Studio Projects  Accessed 11th March 2015
DLP 2015 image courtesy of David L Page Accessed 9th April 2015
Izhaki, Roey. 2013. Mixing audio: concepts, practices and tools. 3rd ed. Oxford: Focal.
Owsinski, Bobby. 2013. The mixing engineer’s handbook. Boston: Cengage Learning.
Page, David L. 2015. Critical listening Part 1  Accessed 9th April 2015
Page, David L. 2015. Critical listening Part 2a  Accessed 9th April 2015
Page, David L. 2015. Critical listening Part 2b   Accessed 9th April 2015
Page, David L. 2014.  Mixing part 6 – effectively guiding creative artists through a process  r 2014]  Accessed 9th April 2015
Pulsating image courtesy of: Image Accessed 15th January, 2016
The Jury Expert. 2015. Man listening image courtesy of: The Jury Expert Accessed 2nd February, 2015
– ©David L Page 10/04/2015
Copyright: No aspect of the content of this blog or blog site is to be reprinted or used within any practice without strict permission directly from David L Page.

Critical Listening Part 2b

cooltext170963325809258Critical Listening task

As I introduced in my Critical Listening Part 2a blog yesterday [March 2015], the reference track I am going to critically listen to today is:
“The Real Thing” written by Johnny Young, performed by Russell Morris, produced by Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum. Released in 1969 in Australia under the label of EMI/Columbia , it was tracked and produced during 1968 and 1969 at Armstrong Studios in Melbourne, Victoria.
The Real Thing stamp - Image                                     (Australia Post stamp 1998)

Genre

The genre is Psychedelic Rock, and due to its heavy studio production basis, it follows the British version of Pyschodelic Rock. British Psychedelic Rock exponents in this era were:  Pink Floyd, The Yardbirds, Procol Harum, and The Moody Blues (George-Warren and Romanowski. 2001). Additionally, there a number of non-Psychedelic Rock bands such as The Beatles and The Small Faces who produced albums or singles in the Psychedelic Rock genre (Max TV 2015). Psychedelic rock as a genre was established attempting to create a soundtrack to the emerging experimental and social drug culture of the day – relaxant and hallucinogenic drugs such as marijuana, mushrooms, and artificial produced LSD. As the psychedelic movement developed, people started identifying with alternate beliefs and spiritual philosophies from a number of global cultures such as Indian (Hindu), Eastern (Buddhist) and American Indian (Shamanic) cultures.
Therefore the musical characteristics and sonic qualities of psychedelic rock were to simulate and replicate the experiences of a user whilst under the influence of these mind-altering drugs.  Included in the performances and productions were: electric instruments including the newly developed keyboards and synthesisers of the day; electronic sound effects including the newly developed samplers; musical form including extended improvisation and solos; and world music influences such as non-Western music form, scale, instruments including percussive, stringed, wind and vocal chants of numerous cultures from Indian, Eastern and American Indian cultures (Wikipedia 2015).
As introduced in my blog “Music Practitioner Part 2 – What brought me here” [October 2014], although “Russell Morris was an acoustic pop performer of the day, playing either 6 string or 12 -string guitars -….  this song uses the basis of acoustic music (acoustic guitars, bass, drums) with layers of keys, processing applied and sampled sounds (such as news recordings, laughter, choral bomb sirens and it concludes with a bomb blast) over the top” (Page 2014).

Musical Characteristics

The Real Thing PT Session Screenshot.20150312.P1.png
The tempo of this track is 189 bpm, in a 4/4 time signature. The song is 6 minutes 16 seconds in length (I trimmed the blank opening 6 seconds of the track within the DAW) – 298 bars – more than double the length of the usual pop song of the day in length. [Though there was however a 3 min 46 second version played on radio].
The structure of the song as it was written was a AABA form with A being the Verse, and B being the Pre-Chorus and Chorus. However, as it was produced in its psychedelic rock form, most of the second half of the B sections (chorus) were extended into what I am calling a Chorus Refrain (and labelling B+ or B++ or B+++ depending upon the length of it).  Therefore, overall the song structure is: A A B A B B+A B B++ B B+++:  I have listed below the structure, and noted the main musical elements (instrumentation) as they are added in each of the sections, and the harmonisation (chords) as well.
  • Intro [Bar 0] – acoustic guitar – D A E B
  • Verse 1 [Bar 9] – bass -D A E B
  • Verse 2 [Bar 19] – acoustic guitar – B E A E B, B D A E B
  • Pre-chorus – [Bar 27] -drums and tambourine – B
  • Chorus [Bar 31] – D F G Bb D
  • Verse 3 – extended [Bar 39] – organ and harmony vox  – B E A E B, B D A E B
  • Pre-chorus – shortened [Bar 57] – B
  • Chorus [Bar 60] – D F G Bb D
  • Chorus Refrain {extended form of chorus}[Bar 68] – choral vox – D F G Bb D
  • Verse 4 [Bar 85] – acoustic style keys
  • Pre-chorus  {irregular} [Bar 103] – multiple choral vox
  • Chorus [Bar 106]
  • Chorus Refrain {extended form of chorus} [Bar 114] – D F G Bb D
  • Pre-chorus [Bar 122]
  • Chorus [Bar 131]
  • Chorus [Bar 139]
  • Chorus Refrain – with extreme sonic manipulation {Bar 147]  – D F G Bb D
    • Introduce Samples [Bar 187]
    • Keys and Processing [Bar 226] – hi-fi
    • More extreme Processing [Bar 242]
    • Bomb Siren [Bar 258] – lo-fi
    • Bomb blast [Bar 285+] – very lo-fi in places
  • end [Bar 298]
The harmonic progression as listed above is very simple. In fact, it is very repetitive when it is played in its originally written format on an acoustic guitar. In this highly produced format, this song in many ways depends upon the extreme contrasts of musical and sonic variations throughout; however most notably from Bar 114 there are a variety of points of interest included in order to hold the listener’s interest in the song* {*It is interesting to note that Bar 114 represents 2 minutes 22 seconds, which is around the usual length of a song in that era}.
This is done in four primary ways:
  • maintaining a very simple lyric to the song throughout;
  • repeating of the structure {A A B A B B+A B B++ B B+++:) so that it is repetitive, expected and therefore easy to follow;
  • changing the musical elements within the arrangement such as:
the changing of the instruments frequently throughout the later half of the song allowed my interest to be maintained, as I was not able to predict what was going to feature next.
adding other points of interest such as the samples from a wide range of social and cultural situations also helped me to maintain my interest as again I was not able to predict what was going to feature next.
  • with the changes to the musical elements came sonic differences of timbre, pitch and amplitude, adding another layer of interest and unpredictability for the listener.

Sonic Qualities

This song is clearly psychedelic rock in character, with numerous technical processes applied. There are multiple textual layers that Meldrum’s production team achieved via the recording, overdubbing and processing techniques applied.

Recording techniques applied

In 1969, the four track recording device had recently been expanded to included devices capable of recording eight tracks simultaneously. “‘The Real Thing’ was recorded on an eight-track machine” (Max TV 2015).

Overdubbing applied

Going through the above listing of musical elements contained in this song, it is a safe to assume that the track count would exceed eight tracks, necessitating a process of overdubbing the additional required tracks. As I listened to the song, it was clear to me from verse 3 that overdubbing was to be a central aspect of this production.  The article The Story of the Real Thing, notes how elaborate this production was over a relatively long period of time. “The song just grew and grew. ‘The Real Thing’ became the living thing. It was like an alien monster in the basement” (Max TV 2015). In my 2014 blog Music Practitioner Part 2 – What Brought Me Here I noted it had been reported that Meldrum was heavily influenced in this production by the “likes of US Producer Phil Spector, and his wall of sound style” (Page 2014); a production style that not only relied on maximising tracks in the recording process, but also layering of overdubs to build up the sonic texture of the song.

Processing techniques applied

But the most obvious technical characteristic in this production, linking it beyond dispute to its’ psycholdeilc rock genre, is the extreme use of time-domain processing.
From the song’s introduction it is obvious a heavy dose of reverb is being used. Reverb provides an element of spaciousness into a recording suggests the song’s sound stage is in a different space to where the song was actually tracked. Large amounts of natural reverb indicate a very large space, and by applying large amounts of reverb processing the producer leads the listener to imagine the singer is in another location. The large amount of reverb processing used here aligns to the experimental and social drug culture of the day, helping transport the listener to an imagined ethereal, mystical or drug-induced state. From the first verse [Bar 9], the liberal use of reverb is noticeable exaggerating the sibilance in Morris’s vocal line. Adding time-domain processing to high frequencies will exaggerate the quality. In the production of another genre – eg jazz – such processing is likely seen to be indicative of poor tracking or mixing processes. However, in this context and genre, such sibilance is used deliberately to support the magined ethereal, mystical or drug-induced state.
From verse 3 excessive flanging is introduced, applied to both the music and the vocal line. As the song progresses, this becomes more of a feature of the song, with excessive amounts of reverb, delay, and flanging to name a few, further supporting the imagined ethereal, mystical or drug-induced state, and I for me, adding interest levels for the listener.
Because of the large amount of processing applied to the song progressively, the sonic quality became quite lo-fi from verse 3, and degenerated from that point into extended periods of poor quality signal. From the third Chorus Refrain at bar 145 the signal was noticeably distorted in places, a sonic quality not usually associated with a pop song of that era.
The dynamics of the song vary dramatically across the entire song, with instrumentation, sampling, amplitude, frequency and processing constantly changing, quite often drastically within a particular section of a song. For example, at bar 225 the signal returned to a typical hi-fi quality for about six bars with the return of some acoustic recorded keyboards. However, at bar 331 the distorted and heavily processed signal was reintroduced.  At bar 242 the signal degenerated further into a very poor quality lo-fi signal and was immersed in the deliberate state of sonic and arrangement chaos until the end of the song.
The use of these technical features, the extent and the amount of processing, along with the full use of the stereo field with liberal use of panning., helped create and place the listener in a mystical or drug-induced type state as the producer had intended. Target achieved – bullseye!

 

target

Tools used to assist in the analysis of a reference track

Analysing  a reference track is an exercise in Critical Listening. As mentioned in last month’s blog, it will take time, practice and considerable dedication to learn to listen for the nuances of the cultural production – the genre, musical and the sonic qualities to a level of mastery. As audio engineering is a craft and art that relies not only the auditory, but also on visual cues as well, you will note some of the tools I have used: my DAW, Pro Tools as the primary tool, along with several plug-ins. I used a Pro Tools session to confirm the tempo, the time signature, and analyse the structure of the song. In terms of the sonic analysis, visual cues I used as part of this Critical Listening task were: virtual meters, spectrometers and vector scopes to confirm what I was hearing with my ears. I suggest these tools can also assist aspiring engineer in the development of their critical listening skills.
Music_staff_+_notes_2560x1600.v1c
(AE 2015)
Next month [April 2015] we will continue to develop our Critical Listening skills to a deeper level.
References
AE 2015 Music note montage in the universe image courtesy of: Angelic Exorcism (AE) Studio Projects  Accessed 11th March 2015
Australia Post 1998 stamp image courtesy of Australia Post.com. Accessed 4th October 2014
George-Warren, Holly and Patricia Romanowski. 2001. The Rolling Stone encyclopedia of rock & roll, edited by Jon Pareles: Touchstone.
Page, David L. 2015. Critical listening Part 1  Critical Listening Part 1  05/02/2015  WordPress.com blog. Accessed 11th March 2015
Page, David L. 2015. Critical listening Part 2a   Critical Listening Part 2a  11/03/2015  WordPress.com blog. Accessed 11th March 2015
Page, David L. 2014. Music practitioner Part 2 – What brought me here  Reflective Practice Part 1 – What Brought Me Here  05/10/2014  WordPress.com blog. Accessed 11th March 2015
Max TV. 2015. The story of the real thing  http://www.maxtv.com.au/news/the-story-of-the-real-thing.aspx  Accessed 11th March 2015
Wikipedia. 2015. The real thing (Russell Morris)   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real_Thing_(Russell_Morris_song)  Accessed 11th March 2015
 The Real Thing article courtesy of  The Real Thing Accessed 11th March 2015
 The Wall of Sound article courtesy of  The Wall of Sound Accessed 11th March 2015
– ©David L Page 12/03/2015
Copyright: No aspect of the content of this blog or blog site is to be reprinted or used within any practice without strict permission directly from David L Page.

Critical Listening Part 2a

~Music_staff Blue
(AE 2015a)
Critical and analytical listening is a skill that separates the experienced audio engineer – particularly mix and mastering engineers – and aspiring engineers. Over the next six months I will cover theory and tasks for aspiring engineers to develop their critical & analytical listening skills. As part of that process, I introduce a task today that is a necessary step for the aspiring engineer to undertake in order to develop ones’ critical listening skills.
As I introduced in Critical Listening Part 1 last month [February 2015 blog] “Critical listening, the ability to hear musically and sonically – technically, is an essential attribute of a music producer” (Page 2015). Critical Listening (CL) is a learnt skill as a result of investing thousand’s of hours of listening critically to audio tracks. Aspiring audio engineers need to develop their ears, something that will require motivation and proactive discipline to commit to practicing on a regular basis. In order to separate ‘listening as a fan of music’ and ‘critical listening’, an aspiring practitioner needs to set aside time, scheduling a number of sessions per week to deliberately practice the discipline of critical listening. It is critical that this practice time is when your ears are fresh, when you will not be disturbed, and when you have access to some quality monitors and a DAW. Making such a commitment will be perhaps your most important decision in your development of one of the core audio engineering skills – your critical listening ability.
The first step is to choose a piece of music to analyse. My advice here is to choose a track you are already familiar with – that is, something that you like. This will assist you in the process of drilling down into the depths of the song, as you are already probably familiar with the features of the genre, and specifics of the song such as music characteristics and sonic qualities: even if you have not yet consciously set aside time to analyse the song in such a detailed manner.
In Critical Listening Part 1 I noted a song that was particularly influential on my development as a creative practitioner. Out of both respect, and I suppose a tribute to the significance of this song, I intend to use it as a reference track for one of my upcoming music productions.The Real Thing stamp - Image                               (Australia Post stamp 1998)

What is a reference track?

A reference track is a track you will use to ‘reference’ against throughout the process of the music production. In many ways, it could be considered a target for the production project; a target around which a building plan can be developed, an architectural plan for your song that has been designed, discussed, agreed and finally acted upon, and then evaluated at certain points in time along the process to confirm the target is likely to be achieved.
target
The reference track should therefore form an agreement as such between the artist and the producer of what the project objective is to be; what they are aiming at, and how the artist would like the final sound of their cultural production to be most similar to. And agreement between the artist and the production team.
The reference track is also most likely to play homage to the genre the artist is most aspiring to: who they are aspiring to sound like – stylistically, musically and sonically. What ‘reference’ track will your artist choose as their plan, their guide track for their production project? What sound do they desire for this specific production project?
Use of a reference track minimises the possibility of any issues later, avoiding a possible disagreement regarding the final product that was produced with difference of opinions between the artist and the producer of what the target was meant to be.

Why use a reference track?

cooltext170962165748837
The reference track specifies the genre, and outlines the specifics of the song such as the music characteristics and sonic qualities that will become the producer’s development plan for the particular production. If you do not have a reference track as starting point, a plan for your production as such, how does you producer know what the song should sound like overall?  What mood should the song should evoke? What shape should the song should take?  What musical qualities should be included? If you do not have such a plan, how does the producer know what instruments should be included? And if known, how does the producer know what the various instruments are required to sound? If you do not start with a reference track, how do you know what sonic qualities you as the producer will aim for in the production?

What are the elements of a reference track from a critical listening perspective?

cooltext170963325809258
A ‘reference’ track is essentially a building plan, an architectural plan for your song, outlining the genre, and what musical and sonic qualities are most desired.
The genre will generally indicate a number of characteristics such as mood (happy, sad, reflective, anger); message (everyday life, relationship, political, spiritual); perspective (1st person, 3rd person narrative, 2nd person conversation, no lyric); likely instrumentation; likely musical structure; likely sonic qualities (hi-fi, lo-fi); social and cultural characteristics (era, target market demographic, cultural significance, para-musical intentions, aesthetic in context).
The musical characteristics include such as musical form; rhythm (tempo, time signature,stress, contra rhythms); harmony (key, harmonic progression, contra harmonies); melody (melodic curve, contra melodies); improvisation; instrumentation; timbre (colour of instruments used); arrangement; elements of interest (form, rhythmic, harmonic, melodic, improvisational,instrumentation or arrangement hooks) .
The sonic qualities of amplitude, timbre, stereo image, spectral, dynamics and time-domain.

Resources to analyse a reference track?

Analysing  a reference track is an exercise in Critical Listening. As mentioned, it will take time, practice and considerable dedication to learn to listen for the nuances of the cultural production – the genre, musical and the sonic qualities to a level of mastery.
Audio engineering is a craft and art that relies not only the auditory, but also on visual cues as well. Visual cues such as meters, spectrometers and vector scopes have traditionally all assisted the audio engineer to confirm what they are hearing with their ears. In today’s world of virtual digital technology, not only can we access a large range of meters and graphic scopes, but we can also rely on the additional visual cues of the tape (ie digital wave form in each track), and the virtual stave documents that can be generated from within the DAW. All of these tools can assist the aspiring engineer in the development of their critical listening skills.
Music_staff_+_notes_2560x1600.v1c
(AE 2015b)
Self-learning task: schedule a critical listening period into your schedule over this coming weekend. Ensure you ears are going to be fresh, you will not be disturbed, and in a conducive listening environment with quality listening monitors. Choose a familiar song, and listen for clues regarding the genre, musical and the sonic qualities to a level that you have not practiced previously. Note down your findings. Repeat the exercise several days later, and not down your additional findings following the second critical listening session.
I have provided an example of such a critical listening task in my blog Critical listening Part 2b [March 2015].
References
AE 2015a Music note montage in the universe image courtesy of: Angelic Exorcism (AE) Studio Projects  Accessed 11th March 2015
AE 2015b Music note montage in the universe image courtesy of: Angelic Exorcism (AE) Studio Projects  Accessed 11th March 2015
Australia Post 1998 stamp image courtesy of Australia Post.com. Accessed 4th October 2014
Page, David L. 2015. Critical listening part 1  https://davidlintonpagedotcom.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/critical-listening-part-1-2/  05/02/2015  WordPress.com blog. Accessed 10th March 2015
Pulsating image courtesy of: Image Accessed 10th March, 2015
The Real Thing article courtesy of: The Real Thing Accessed 10th March 2015
– ©David L Page 11/03/2015
Copyright: No aspect of the content of this blog or blog site is to be reprinted or used within any practice without strict permission directly from David L Page.

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Critical Listening Part 1

The Human Ear
                                       (The Jury Expert 2015)
Critical listening, the ability to hear musically and sonically – technically, is an essential attribute of a music producer. “Listening skills need to be developed … to function in their job. …”. Producers need to be “actively engaged in seeking out information with each passing sound” (Moylan 2007, 89-91). Whilst a novice ear[1] listening to cultural production artifacts[2] could reveal elements, it takes training to reveal subtle production or post-production techniques, equipment or unorthodox use of equipment or instruments that may be used to create unique sonic qualities or textures to differentiate their music[3] (Davie 2015, 43). An aspiring music production practitioner requires guidance and training[4] to introduce them to the subtleties, gained previously by ‘employment’ in a studio[5] with skilled practitioners to observe, imitate and then the opportunity to apply as the situation provided: the importance of ‘training’ in the workplace, “learning and working are interdependent” (Billet 2001, 39; Burgess 2013, 38). The “apprenticeship approach – modelling, coaching, scaffolding and fading” was used as it was found to be central to effective workplace-training techniques (Billet 2001, 145). Whilst the contemporary DIY music production practitioner now has access to the technology, without access to experienced and skilled technicians within work-place-training environments, their ‘training and development’ is more than likely going to be deficient, with essential skills as critical listening[6] lacking (Hague 2010; Therbege 1997, 19; Holmes 2012, 6; Davie 2012, 44).

 Self-learning: the ‘discipline’ required to be a contemporary music practitioner

Effective DIY learning requires the discipline of motivation and proactivity to seek out information and learning opportunities. With the unlikelihood of finding an existing studio to receive workplace-training, the contemporary DIY music production practitioner needs to be resourceful in their quest to learn the art and craft of production, and become “aware of the questions and problems that all producers face” (Burgess 2013, 35). There is an abundance of resources[7] today aimed at the aspiring music production practitioner, aligned to effective self-learning methods and tools (Billet 2001, 71). Professional level videos such as on Lynda.com (2015) and Pensado’s Place (2015) provide industry experienced and skilled technicians, with the benefit of this resource being it can be replayed infinite times. In addition to these reputable industry video resources, there are numerous text-based resources such as Sound on Sound (2015) and the Australian-based Audio Technology magazine (2015) that can be sourced online for professional industry relevant information as opportunities for aspiring music practitioners to learn. Burgess (2013, 35) encourages the practitioner to “learn as much as you can by imitation from the most experienced people who are available to you”. However, lacking in contemporary practice is having a more experienced and skilled technician in a position to observe one’s practice to provide appropriate feedback, further explanation and retraining as required. Networks and communities can provide such an opportunity, with experienced and skills technicians available to provide mentoring and training opportunities.
The other opportunity provided in the current era that was lacking in the 1960’s and early 1970’s were vocational and tertiary courses such as the likes of the Australian-based SAE {originally known as the School of Audio Engineering} (2015) and JMC Academy (2015) Institutes. SAE, regarded as the first commercial vocational course of its kind in the world, commenced in Sydney in 1976 (SAE 2015). In order to teach subject content, professional studio processes had to be analysed and industry-valid curriculum developed in order to provide to potential consumers and prosumers the justification of making the tuition fee investment. Burgess confirms their relevance in the discipline: “combined with a proactive DIY approach, a good school program can fill in knowledge gaps and instill a deeper understanding of the fundamentals while increasing awareness of best practices’ (Burgess, 2013, 35).
With the demise of the opportunities for on-the-job-training as with the large format studio model the audio industry used to be known for, many opportunities have resulted in the changing landscape of the contemporary audio industry. Effective DIY learning does require motivation and proactivity to seek out information and learning opportunities. However, the development of a skill such as Critical Listening is something that can be achieved without necessarily leaving one’s home by taking advantage of the internet and the many communication mediums and learning resources that are provided for in this era.
[1] A novice ear listening to cultural production artifacts[2] could reveal elements such as: the genre, aesthetic qualities, general instrumentation, musical structure, lyric or musical message, and spatial placement.
[2] Examples of cultural production artifacts in the field of music production are: albums, CDs and mp3s
[3] Many believe the unique range of sonic qualities or textures are the elements that influence and motivate music producers to create.
[4] Advice traditionally came from work-place training , via a trainer, adviser or ‘mentor’
[5] Employment could be a paid or unpaid role, usually very menial such as coffee boy or cleaner
[6] I developed my critical listening skill within industry, via workplace-training. Today, as part of my ongoing professional development process, I routinely reserve time for critical listening of a range of cultural production artifacts, across genres. Of particular interest to me are: innovative structures, techniques or equipment other practitioners may be employing in their production or post-production process, to realise unique musical or sonic qualities or textures.
[7] Examples of resources that exist in the market place to support contemporary DIY music producers with knowledge and influence are: 1) academic texts, academic journals, functional textbooks, industry associations, industry conferences, industry trade magazines, product and service providers, manufacturers and distributors, specialist professionals such technicians and engineers, forums, blogs and websites; courses, and; cultural production artifacts such as albums, CDs and mp3s.
This blog series is planned to continue with Critical Listening Part 2a.
References
Audio Technology Magazine. 2015. http://www.audiotechnology.com.au Accessed 2nd February, 2015
Billett, Stephen. 2001. Learning in the workplace: strategies for effective practice. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.
Burgess, Richard James. 2013. The art of music production: the theory and practice. New York: Oxford University Press.
Davie, Mark. 2015. DIY: don’t be a tool. In Audio Technology 2015 (106): 98.
Davie, Mark. 2012. The diy revolution. In Audio Technology (91): 98.
Hague, Graeme. 2010. Recording and production: make and record music now. In Guerilla Guide (29): 131. Accessed 2nd February, 2015
Holmes, Thom. 2012. Electronic and experimental music: technology, music, and culture. 4th ed. New York: Routledge.
JMC Academy. 2015. http://www.jmcacademy.edu.au/?gclid=CN636-HnmcsCFQGbvAod7GoMDQ  Accessed 2nd February, 2015
Lynda.com. 2015. http://www.lynda.com/in/general2?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=l4-AU-SEM-Brand&cid=l4-au:en:ps:lp:prosc:s0:0:all:google:xct-lynda_com&utm_content=95405330550&utm_term=lynda%20com&device=c&gclid=CNmGg_LnmcsCFRJxvAod8fUEWw  Accessed 2nd February, 2015
Moylan, William. 2007. The art of recording: the creative resources of music production and audio. Boston: Focal Press.
Pensado’s Place. 2015. http://www.pensadosplace.tv Accessed 2nd February, 2015
SAE. 2015. SAE Institute. https://sae.edu.au/ Accessed 2nd February, 2015
Sound on Sound. 2015. http://www.soundonsound.com Accessed 2nd February, 2015
Théberge, Paul. 1997. Any sound you can make: making music/consuming technology. Hanover: University Press of New England.
The Jury Expert. 2015. Man listening image courtesy of: The Jury Expert Accessed 2nd February, 2015
– ©David L Page 05/02/2015
Copyright: No aspect of the content of this blog or blog site is to be reprinted or used within any practice without strict permission directly from David L Page.

Music Practitioner Part 2 – What Brought Me Here #5

The Real Thing stamp - Image                                       (Australia Post stamp 1998)
This blog is a continuation of a series. See here for the previous blog.

A significant influence

A song that had a significant influence on my music practice in my formative years was “The Real Thing” written by Johnny Young, performed by Russell Morris, produced by Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum (Max TV 2014).
The Real Thing
The song was originally released in 1969 – an era of exponential technological development, including space travel, exploration (the first man walking on the moon), global conflict (the Vietnam war), global uprising (protests against the US involvement in this war), the social and cultural movement of peace, love and the resultant drug taking (largely marijuana and LSD), and music including folk, jazz, R&B, pop, rock, progressive rock and psychedelic rock genres (to name a few).
Russell Morris was an acoustic pop performer with some popular music chart success, playing either 6 string or 12 string guitars. Whilst he did play as a solo performer, a band often supported Morris (Wikipedia 2014). This song uses the basis of acoustic music (acoustic guitars, bass, drums) with layers of keys, processing applied and sampled sounds (such as news recordings, laughter, choral bomb sirens and it concludes with a bomb blast) over the top. Despite this song had clear acoustic influence, performed by someone who was usually an acoustic artist I recall the main aspects that caught my attention with this song was:
  • This song was clearly of psychedelic character, with numerous technical processes applied
  • The most obvious technical characteristic are the full use of the stereo field, with liberal use of panning; and
  • the extreme use of time-domain processing, from the opening section of the song, applied to both the music and the vocal line……including large amounts of reverb, delay, and flanging to name a few. Additionally, because of the large amount of processing, the main sonic quality was quite distorted in places, particular in the later half of the song
  • The use of these, especially the extent and the amount of processing helped create and place the listener in an out of world or drug-induced type state.
  • The duration of the song is more than double the length of the usual pop song of the day at 6 mins 22 seconds in length. [However, there was also a 3 min 46 second version played on radio]
  • the simplistic nature of the lyric, being only a few lines repeated throughout the whole song. I recall how a song could take you on a journey, telling a story, with limited lyrics, and yet still had an emotional impact of me
  • whilst the song represented a vehicle that transported me to another world sonically & aurally, I recall the intrigue of how this song incorporated a political statement, with the music video referenced against a backdrop of Vietnam war film footage. This introduced to me the multiple intentions and messages a song could express, appealing to a range of listeners with different values and beliefs of what the cultural production actually meant to them.
It has been reported that the likes of US Producer Phil Spector, and his wall of sound style of productions influenced Ian Meldrum (Wall of Sound 2014). I am unsure if Meldrum specifically set out to reproduce recording and production techniques that Spector used to achieve the wall of sound style; or whether Meldrum had the intent to create a song with a similar type of sonic complexity and variety of recording, overdubbing and processing techniques that took the listener on a sonic experience and voyage. Irrespective of Meldrum’s intent, I was certainly taken on, and continue to be taken on a sonic experience and voyage each time I listen to this song. As I return to this song after several decades of not listening to it in depth, and analyzing it as an example for my undergraduate degree students, I am again entertained and impressed by the multiple textual layers that Meldrum’s production team achieved via the recording, overdubbing and processing techniques applied. I further realize the dynamics of the song vary throughout, with instrumentation, sampling, amplitude, frequency, stereo field and processing constantly changing, quite often within a particular section of a song. This variety and complexity for me, makes this song a sonic experience and voyage each time I visit it.
It is this compositional intent and production approach that I will incorporate into my pending original music practice project.
This blog series is planned to continue next month with Music Practitioner Part 3. It is intended for this blog series to continue on a regular basis as I progress through my doctoral research project.
References
Australia Post 1998 stamp image courtesy of Australia Post.com. Accessed 4th October, 2014.
Max TV. 2014. The story of the real thing  http://www.maxtv.com.au/news/the-story-of-the-real-thing.aspx  Accessed 4th October, 2014.
Page, David L. 2014a. Life is About the Moment  Accessed 4th October, 2014.
Page, David L. 2014b. Music Practitioner Part 3  Accessed 18th October, 2014.
Wikipedia. 2014. The real thing (Russell Morris)   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real_Thing_(Russell_Morris_song)  Accessed 4th October, 2014.
The Real Thing article courtesy of: The Real Thing Accessed 4th October, 2014.
The Real Thing video clip courtesy of: The Real Thing  Accessed 4th October, 2014.
The Wall of Sound article courtesy of:  The Wall of Sound  Accessed 4th October, 2014.
– ©David L Page 05/10/2014
– updated ©David L Page 18/10/2014
– updated ©David L Page 15/05/2016
Copyright: No aspect of the content of this blog or blog site is to be reprinted or used within any practice without strict permission directly from David L Page.

Cultural Production Project Part 3

“Music is in life. It occurs everywhere – at any moment in time, in every place” (Page 2010)

Continuing on from last month’s Cultural Production Project – Part 2 [February 2010], I will focus this month on the actual project of fusing together three musical styles to create a soundscape that expresses myself musically and sonically.

~DL with Gretsch + C414.20141006.P21

Aim and Objective for this Project

To recap, the aim of this project is to refocus on a creative production project that allows me to create a natural musical style and arrangement.

fuse-together

The objective of this project is two-fold: to fuse multiple musical styles into a finished product – a soundscape that expresses myself musically and sonically; and to develop a greater understanding of my workflow in a virtual environment using both a range of technologies (software and hardware).

logic-pro-8-session

The three musical styles I intend to fuse are: folk-rock, new-age/spiritual, and soul-rock musical styles, creating a new fusion musical style.

The Fusion of the 3 Musical Styles into 1 Cultural Production

The musical styles I have described and analysed in Cultural Production Project – Part 2 [February 2010] are three-fold:
  • Rock n’ Soul/Neo Soul;
  • World Fusion/New Age;
  • Country Folk/Indie Rock.
The fusion of these three musical styles I believe has yet to be developed and exploited in the mass market. I believe this fusion is of three quite disparate musical styles could be described as a: rock track, with soulful overtones, a strong ethnic-flavoured instrumental/synthetic base, with possibly a simplistic real-type story and/or music-bed (harmony/melody) underlying the track.
The historical development of these specific musical styles can be best shown within the following graphic.
Historical Development of Specific Musical Styles.P3
The graphic shows:
  • the development of the two genres of Rock n’Roll and Soul, developing into the genres of Rock n’ Soul and Neo Soul. These two genres then develops into the genre of Nu Soul;
  • the development of the two genres of World Fusion and New Age into the genre of Nu World;
  • the development of Country and Folk into the genres of Country Rock and Folk Rock. These two genres then develop into the genre of Country Folk Rock, which in turn develops into the genre of Indie Rock.
Therefore, from now I am referring to the historical development of musical styles of:
  • World Fusion/New Age as Nu World;
  • Rock n’ Soul/Neo Soul as Nu Soul; and
  • Country Folk/ Rock as Indie Rock.
  • Collectively I will refer to the new three-part fusion musical style as Nu World IndiSoul.

The Production & Compositional Elements of Nu World IndiSoul

analysis-with-magnifying-glass

As part of my analysis, I will now discuss the production and compositional elements of the three musical styles.

Musical Style Name

Nu Soul

Nu World

Indie Rock

Production & Compositional Elements

Rock n’ Soul/

Neo Soul

World Fusion/

New Age

Country Folk/

Indie Rock

Story Line

Love –
love found/love lost/heartache
Survival
Life
Meditative/
Spiritual Connection
Life
Day to Day Life
Politics
Lifestyle
Life Ideals
Ethnic/Cultural Connections

Compositional

Tempo

100-130 bpm
90-120bpm
80-100 bpm

Chord variety

6-8 chords
2-4 chords
3-4 Chords

Time signature

Typically 4/4
A variety
Typically 4/4 or 3/4

Instrumentation

Organic
Synthetic + Organic Combination
Organic

Drums/Percussive

Straight Up Full Rock Kit
Hollow Drum/Jembahs/
/Shakers/Triangles
Partial/Jazz Drum Kit

Bass

Rock Bass and/or Upright Double Bass
Synth/s
Bass or Upright Double Bass

Chordal

Guitar and/or Keyboards
Synth/s
Guitar and/or Keyboards

Lead

Vocals
Chanting/
Pan Flute/Strings (Cello)
Vocals/
Harmony Vocals

Secondary lead Lines

Strings (eg violin)
Brass (eg saxophone/ trumpet)
Backup Vocals
Synth/s
Percussion
Strings (eg violin)
Brass (eg saxophone/ trumpet)
Backup Vocals

Breaks

Vocals/Guitar/ Keyboards
Synth/s
Vocals/
Harmony Vocals

Production

Production techniques typical in this musical style

Depending upon the producer and the chosen sound for the band for this particular project; & their desire to stay as close to organic/pure ‘rock’ sound, or their intention to stray as far away from organic as possible;
A number of producers are known for ‘wall of sound’ – Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno – using synths/layers to build up sound (eg U2, Coldplay).
Steve Lillywhite is known for organic, keeping the guitar sound as organic as they are produced at source (eg Bruce Springsteen)
Depending upon the producer and the chosen sound for the particular project; but generally keeping the sound ‘crisp, clear & clean’.
Depending upon the producer and the chosen sound for the band for this particular project; & their desire to stay as close to organic/pure ‘country’ or ‘folk’ sound, or their intention to stray as far away from organic as possible;
Jeff Lynne, in contrast to his ‘synthetic’ session band ELO, produced a very organic sound for the Travelling Wilburies, keeping the guitars and vocals of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty and himself sound as organic as they are produced at source

Mixing

Applying the principles of David Gibson’s “The Art Of Mixing” to this project. Using Volume, Panning, EQ, Reverb and FX to give the feeling of space and placement
[see Mixing blogs for greater explanation here]
Applying the principles of David Gibson’s “The Art Of Mixing” to this project. Using Volume, Panning, EQ, Reverb and FX to give the feeling of space and placement
[see Mixing blogs for greater explanation here]
Applying the principles of David Gibson’s “The Art Of Mixing” to this project. Using Volume, Panning, EQ, Reverb and FX to give the feeling of space and placement
[see Mixing blogs for greater explanation here]

Dynamics & Effects Processing

Depending upon the artist and their desire to stay as close to organic/pure ‘rock’ sound, or their intention to stray as far away from organic as possible; generally, moderate amounts of reverb and/or echo. Possibly the individual musicians will add FX to their instrument at source, as they have become known for their sound = ‘colour’
A lot of echo & reverb on all of the tracks – drums, vocals, keys – making even the ‘organic’ instruments sound synthetic – but clear’
Depending upon the artist and their desire to stay as close to organic/pure ‘country’ or ‘folk’ sound, or their adventure to stray as far away from organic as possible; generally, very little reverb and/or echo as possible

Prominent Producers & Engineers

Brian Eno; Daniel Lanois; Steve Lilywhite
Alan Parsons; Brian Eno; Mike Oldfield;
Ennio Morricone; Eric Serra
Jaques Levy; Daniel Lanois; Brendan O’Brien; Jeff Lynne; Glen Ballard; Scott Litt

Common release formats (ie: Vinyl, CD, DVD, Digital or combination)

Combination -CD, DVD, Digital
Combination -CD, DVD, Digital
Combination -CD, DVD, Digital

Live performances of musical style/artists

Yes, traditional rock venues; pubs; festivals
Yes, but also music in DJ events, nightclubs, etc; certain festivals; Not in traditional pop-rock performance venues; possibly in cultural events such as WOMAD etc
Yes, traditional live music venues; festivals; folk festivals

The Cultural Production

Below is a link to the actual Nu World IndiSoul cultural production, Termination. It is the result of the fusion of three quite disparate musical styles possibly best described as a: rock track, with soulful overtones, a strong ethnic-flavoured instrumental/synthetic base, with possibly a simplistic real-type story and/or music-bed (harmony/melody) underlying the track.
Soundcloud link:  The Termination

How Has This Project Influenced My Own Understanding of Production and Composition

Essentially this project has forced me to stop and consider what my influences are, and then be able to concisely articulate this into a musical style. Whilst I have spent many hours in the past considering such a question, it would seem there are benefits to choosing to explore a specific cultural production project within a specified time-frame .

How Will This Project Influence My Future Development, Including the On-going Development of Nu World IndiSoul

I believe this project will influence my future development by allowing me to express myself more congruently within my music practice:
  • of divine spirit;
  • of rock drive;
  • of folk/culture/roots;
I believe this project will influence my future development by allowing me to express myself within my music practice through the technology of:
  • organic instruments – allowing me to create with more flexibility/more efficiency than I could on the Porta 4 Studio several decades ago;
  • Whilst utilizing the convenience of synthetics/electronic instruments
    • time;
    • cost;
    • organization of people;
    • hiring of space;
    • allowing myself to be more self-sufficient;
    • allowing myself to become more experimental;
    • trialling varying structures;
    • trialling varying instrumentation;
    • trailing varying combinations of the above;
    • trialling varying fusions of organic & synthetic;
Ultimately creating the famous wall of sound/anthemic/stadium rock sounds of the 1980’s that so many great Rock n’ Soul/Neo Soul bands possessed with the use of additional synthetic sounds, and a number have since continued on to create and develop to a new level.

Summary – The Fused Musical style of Nu World IndiSoul

Historical Development of Specific Musical Styles.P3

I imagine Nu World IndiSoul to be a fusion of production and compositional elements from the three quite disparate musical styles of:
  • Rock n’ Soul/Neo Soul;
  • World Fusion/New Age;
  • Country Folk/Indie Rock.
Into the future, my vision is to:
  • continue to experiment with a combination of both organic and synthetic instruments;
  • continue to experiment with a combination of both organic and synthetic processing, adding a variety of FX
  • continue to experiment fusing the main lyrical message of the three musical styles; and as well,
  • continue to experiment fusing the three musical styles in terms of musical elements such as tempo, chord variety, and time signature.
In essence, it is to be an ethnic-flavoured rock track, lying on an interesting but simple music-bed (harmony/melody), layered with a combination of both organics and synthetics, and a connected-type story sitting comfortably within. I have referred throughout my music analysis to relevant audio examples of each of three musical styles, and summarized these in the references below.
References – Print Examples – Books/Magazines/Internet Sites

Rock n’ Soul/Neo Soul

World Fusion/New Age

Country Folk/Indie Rock

“The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock”
By Nick Logan & Bob Woffinden (1977)
 
“The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock”
By Nick Logan & Bob Woffinden (1977)
“Rock Lives – Profiles & Interviews” By Timothy White (1990)
 
“Rock Lives – Profiles & Interviews” By Timothy White (1990)
“Rock & Roll – The Music, Musicians and the Mania”
By Ted Greenwald (1992)
 
“Rock & Roll – The Music, Musicians and the Mania”
By Ted Greenwald (1992)
“Writing Music for Hit Songs” By Jai Josefs (1996)
“Writing Music for Hit Songs” By Jai Josefs (1996)
“Writing Music for Hit Songs” By Jai Josefs (1996)
“The Art of Mixing” by David Gibson (1997)
“The Art of Mixing” by David Gibson (1997)
“The Art of Mixing” by David Gibson (1997)
“The Usborne Internet-Linked Introduction To Music” By Eileen O’Brien (2000)
 
“The Usborne Internet-Linked Introduction To Music” By Eileen O’Brien (2000)
“The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll”
By John Pareles 2001)
 
“The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll”
By John Pareles (2001)
“Future Sounds –
An insider’s Guide To Making & Selling Music in The Digital Age” By Tom Frederiske & Adrien Cook (2001)
“Future Sounds –
An insider’s Guide To Making & Selling Music in The Digital Age” By Tom Frederiske & Adrien Cook (2001)
“Future Sounds –
An insider’s Guide To Making & Selling Music in The Digital Age” By Tom Frederiske & Adrien Cook (2001)
“PC Music – The Easy Guide”
By Robin Vincent (2006)
“Behind The Glass – Volume 1 + 11” By Howard Massey (2006+2008)
“Behind The Glass – Volume 1 + 11” By Howard Massey (2006+2008)
“Behind The Glass – Volume 1 + 11” By Howard Massey (2006+2008)
“The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock”
By Michael Heatley (2008)
“The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock”
By Michael Heatley (2008)
“Mixing Audio” By Roey Izhaki (2008)
“Mixing Audio” By Roey Izhaki (2008)
“Mixing Audio” By Roey Izhaki (2008)
Wikipedia
(internet as at Sept 2009)
 
References – Audio Examples – CD/MP3

Rock n’ Soul/Neo SouSoul

World Fusion/New Age 

Country Folk/Indie Rock

Bruce Springsteen ‘The River’
Peter Gabriel ‘Biko’
Bob Dylan ‘I Shall Be Released’
Bryan Adams ‘Cuts Like A Knife’
Amr Diab ‘Tamally Maak’
Tom Petty ‘Learning To Fly’
U2 ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’
Enigma ‘The Cross Of Changes’
Travelling Wilburys ‘I Was So Much Older Then…’
Hothouse Flowers ‘I Can See Clearly Now’
Deep Forest ‘Sweet Lullaby’
Alanis Morrisette ‘Ironic’
INXS ‘By My Side’
Oliver Shanti + Friends ‘Donovan My Timeless’
Paul Kelly ‘Leaps & Bounds’
Michael Jackson ‘Stranger In Moscow’ + ‘Billie Jean’
Nakai & Khecog ‘Winds Of Devotion’
Linda Ronstadt ‘The Blue Train’
 
Sacred Earth ‘Dancing Shiva’
 
 
Sina Vodjani ‘Straight To The Heart’
 
 
Moby ‘Look Back In’
 
~DL with Gretsch + C414.20141006.P21
References
Analysis image courtesy of:  Analysis  Accessed 8th March 2010
DLP  image courtesy of: DLP Accessed 8th March 2010
Historical Development of Musical Styles  image courtesy of: DLP  Accessed 8th March 2010
Logic Pro 8 image courtesy of:  Logic Pro 8 Accessed 8th March 2010
Page, David L. 2010  DLP Quote  Accessed 10th January, 2010
Planetary fusion image courtesy of: Planet Fusion Accessed 8th March 2010
– ©David L Page 09/03/2010
Copyright: No aspect of the content of this blog or blog site is to be reprinted or used within any practice without strict permission directly from David L Page.